As my family have been members of the National Trust for a number of years it can be quite a challenge to find somewhere new to visit that is reasonably nearby so we aren’t travelling for hours to get there! Although London isn’t actually that far away from my house in Oxfordshire I haven’t had the chance to visit many of the National Trust properties in the surrounding areas. So with an empty Sunday looming we decided to travel slightly further than usual to visit the beautiful Georgian country estate of Osterley, in west London.
In order to reach Osterley we traveled by car along the A40 and then M40 towards London, heading onto Jersey Road in Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 4RB. From my house it took around an hour and a half before we reached the long winding drive up to the estate. Parking is free for National Trust members (£4 for non members), and looks out over the beautiful surrounding parkland which is open for visitors to explore all year round.
Osterley began life as a red brick Tutor house, built in 1576 for the banker Sir Thomas Gresham, who entertained Queen Elizabeth I there at least twice. The nearby stable block was also built during this time, and can still be found on the Osterley estate as a visitor cafe. In 1712, the wealthy goldsmith, banker and property developer Sir Francis Child I (1642-1714) (Owner of the Child & Co bank, who later became Mayor of London and a Member of Parliament) acquired the house but unfortunately never lived in it. Child & Co banking premises were originally based at 1 Fleet Street next to the gateway, known as Temple Bar, and depicted in a fascinating painting hanging in the long hallway. The bank’s premises, now part of Royal Bank of Scotland, are still there today.
When Sir Francis Child II died (1684-1740) the renovation work at Osterley was taken on by his brother and heir, Robert Child (1674-1721). Alongside his younger brothers Francis Child III (1735-63) and Samual Child (1693-1752), Robert continued the family’s banking firm and acquired many of the lacquar and japanned items of furniture found in the house today through his participation in the East India trade. In 1761, Francis Child III employed one of the most fashionable architects in England, Robert Adam (1728-92), to transform Osterley into what Horace Walpole (1717-97) would later describe as the ‘palace of palaces’. Adam soon began redesigning Osterley into a breathtaking retreat from nearby London in which the Child family could entertain and impress their guests. Once his designs and exterior work were complete Adam set about transforming Osterley’s ground floor rooms into ‘show rooms’ which truly encapsulated the family’s wealth, from intricate metal door knobs to detailed hand painted ceilings. Today the house is as it would have looked in the 1780’s, including an opulent domed state bed which Adam designed himself.
In 1782 unbeknown to Robert Child and Sarah Jodrell their only beloved daughter, Sarah Anne Child (1764-93) eloped with John Fane (10th Earl of Westmorland) to Gretna Green. Her parents were less than pleased with the match, as they had hoped Sarah Anne would marry a commoner who might take on the Child family name. When Robert Child died two months later (some say of a broken heart), his modified will wrote Sarah Anne and the Westmorlands out of the Child fortune and placed all his belongings, including Osterley, in trust to his future first granddaughter, Lady Sarah Sophia Fane (1785-1867). In 1804 Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, know also by Regency society as ‘Queen Sarah’, married George-Villiers (5th Earl of Jersey), and so Osterley passed into the Jersey family. Her new husband’s mother was Frances Villiers (Countess of Jersey, also known as Lady Jersey), one of the more notorious mistresses of King George IV, when he was Prince of Wales.
The Jersey family continued to use Osterley regularly for entertaining, except between 1870 and 1883, when the house was leased to the Dowager Duchess of Cleveland. However in 1923, George Francis Child Villiers (9th Earl of Jersey) (1910-98) inherited the Osterley estate and deciding not to live there, opened it up to the public in 1939. During World War II it was used as a school for the Home Guard and in 1947 served as a convalescence home for injured airmen. In 1949, Osterley was acquired by the National Trust and it’s doors opened to the public in 1953.
We decided to have some lunch in the benched picnic area nearby the car park before heading up to the house. From here there are beautiful views across the lake and parkland, as well as the resident waterfowl. Walking up the tree lined driveway, passing the long lake on your left and open grassland on the right, the grand red brick Georgian house suddenly comes into view. The Osterley estate offers a quiet retreat, only a stones-throw from London and it is easy to see how it would have impressed guests visiting the Child family! It also has hundreds of acres of parkland to explore as well as a Park Run every Saturday morning at 9am. The grassed lawn in front of the house was full of families enjoying the beautiful weather and parkland, and we were lucky enough to see a heron catching fish in the lake 🙂
On reaching the house, large stone steps lead you up to the ‘transparent’ portico, boasting large pillars and ionic capitals. It is really amazing to be able to enter the house through the main front entrance, passing under the intricately decorated ceiling and straight into the Entrance Hall (Designed in 1767 and completed in 1773). The Entrance Hall is very muted in colour, decorated in soft grey and white, with a beautiful tiled floor and large Mediterranean style statues and urns.
From here we were directed into the Long Gallery, which still has it’s original wooden floor and is decorated in light jade green. After a welcome talk from one of the guides (Which I would definitely recommend!) we were able to explore the house on our own. The Long Gallery is filled with many interesting paintings and mirrors, as well as Asian items of furniture brought to Osterley as a result of the Child family’s participation in the East India trade. I particularly enjoyed the tall Chinese porcelain dragon lidded vases (mid 18th century) and the ornate ivory Chinese carved items, including a pleasure barge (mid-eighteenth-century) and multilevel platter would have been placed on the table of the guest of honour.
Heading left, we passed through four more rooms, including: The Drawing room, The Tapestry room, The Bed Chamber and finally The Etruscan room. Every room is opulently designed but each have their own particular style, which makes them fascinating to explore! The drawing room is a light, airy room decorated with green/gold wallpaper and furniture, below an incredible ceiling design of pink, blue, and gold ostrich feathers set in an oval among octagonal coffers. Notably described by Horace Walpole as ‘worthy of Eve before the fall’. Currently several pictures on loan from the Earldom of Jersey trust are on display in this room, including: The Dobson self-portrait (1611-46), portraits of Robert Child and Sarah Child neé Jodrell, later Countess Ducie (c.1740-93), and The Music Lesson by Sir Peter Lely. The carpet in this room was made by Thomas Moore, to reflect the ceiling design.
In comparison, the tapestry room is a dark, candle lit (In order to protect the delicate tapestries!) red room decorated with Boucher-Neilson Gobelins tapestries (1775). The bed chamber room again returns to a light yet opulent style, with the main focus taken entirely by the elaborate domed bed, designed by Adam himself. I particularly enjoyed looking up inside the bed frame at it’s interior, which unsurprisingly is as beautifully decorated as the exterior.
Finally, the Etruscan room displays a similar ornate feel but with a contrasting style, delicately painted from floor to ceiling and completed in 1778. This room remains of special interest as the only surviving example of a style which was initiated by Adam and subsequently widely copied. Four other Etruscan rooms designed by him elsewhere have unfortunately disappeared.
From here we turned left down a long hallway painted in a similar colour scheme to the long gallery, lined with several pictures of Child family members, including a painting attributed to John Collett (1725-80) of the Child & Co bank premises which are immediately to the left of Temple Bar in London. We spend quite a bit of time carefully looking at all the interesting characters in the painting! This led us back to the entrance hall, which we crossed to explore the eating room, decorated in a combination of pink and jade green. I particularly liked the mosaic side tables, intricately decorated with flowers.
Heading back into the hallway, we passed the breathtaking green and white staircase decorated with large pillars, hanging lanterns and painted ceiling. The library, designed in 1766 and completed in 1773, is decorated lightly, and lined with white painted Ionic bookcases (Including a secret door!). Finally we visited the breakfast room (Originally yellow) which is currently being renovated after being re painted grey when it was used as one of the sets for the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.
Heading upstairs, we explored a few others rooms, decorated in a more modest style (As they weren’t meant for show, but family living), including: The Guest room and The Lady’s Dressing room. Finally we headed down to the basement to explore the servants quarters, including: The Kitchen, Store rooms and House Keeper’s office. I particularly enjoyed seeing a set of comedic drawings, a recreation of a spinning top game and the large traditional oven. We ended up playing the spinning top game for a while, and after a quite a few goes we managed to get the hang of it and knock over several of the wooden pegs!
Once we had finished exploring, we headed around the back of the house to climb the beautiful white sweeping staircase and look out across the parkland. Turning right we followed the gravel park into the main gardens behind the old Tudor stable block, starting with the walled vegetables and flower gardens. The sun was shining and Mrs Child’s flower garden was filled with tons of bright blooming flowers covered in butterflies and bees. The vegetable part of the walled garden was planted up with brightly coloured chard, lettuces and fennel, with lots of wild flowers throughout which worked really well. Surrounding the plots were fruit trees laden with delicious looking plums and apples. Out of the walled garden, we followed the gravel path around the large Temple Lawn covered in deck chairs for visitors to sit in and enjoy the sunshine, as well as admiring Adam’s iconic Temple of Pan summer house. Finally we looked at The Oriental Plane tree, which was brought over from Turkey or Iran and planted in 1755!
I really enjoyed my visit to Osterley! The journey didn’t take too long, and thankfully there was relatively no traffic. As me and my family are National Trust members we got in to the parkland, gardens and house for free, while for non members admission is £9.25 for adults, £4.65 for children and £22.95 for a family, which makes Osterley one of the more expensive properties I have visited. Despite this, Osterley definitely offers plenty to see and do for the cost (For me the house itself is purely worth it on it’s own!). The house is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but open the rest of the week along with the gardens, parkland (8am to 7.30pm) and shop/tea room from 11am to 5pm. We brought our own picnic to enjoy in the parkland, however if you wanted to buy some lunch the Stables Cafe has a selection of hot/cold lunches, cakes and cream teas! I would love to visit again around, especially around Christmas time, as if Osterley is decorated anywhere near as beautifully as Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire it would be an even more breathtaking visit 🙂
A Day in the Life…